KNOXVILLE – Going by the stars beside his name as a high school recruit, Tennessee freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is among the least likely of UT’s newcomers to make an impact in 2014.
But that hasn’t been the case through nine spring practices.
Moseley, regarded as a low three-star prospect by the major recruiting services, has been practicing with the first team for much of spring. Thursday afternoon he showed an example of why that is.
Facing star wide receiver Marquez North in a one-on-one drill near the end zone with the whole team watching, Moseley got beat off the line, but made a fast recovery and got just enough of his hand on the pass to deflect it away from a leaping North. His defensive teammates swarmed him in celebration. Even North and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni came over to tell him what a nice play it was.
“Emmanuel Moseley is the one individual at corner who continually impresses,” said coach Butch Jones. “He’s extremely competitive, fights for the ball in the air, he’s like a sponge. He takes everything that Coach [Willie] Martinez tells him, tries to apply it to his game. We just need to get him bigger and stronger to compete at a high level come August and into football season. I really like what he’s bringing to the table.”
The strength factor that Jones referenced might be Moseley’s biggest obstacle at this point. Listed at just 165 pounds, he’s one of the skinniest players on the roster. And though he’s added to his 5-foot-11 frame since coming on campus, there’s still work to be done, especially from a physical standpoint.
And that’s what Jones will be looking for from both Moseley and the entire defense in scrimmage No. 3 on Saturday morning in Neyland Stadium. After putting that unit in the white uniforms all week and calling it “soft as marshmallows” at one point, that side of the ball needs a good effort on Saturday.
“We must become a much better tackling defensive football team,” Jones said. “That’s the reason why we continue to make the quarterbacks live. Yeah, it’s for the quarterbacks, to see who can create plays, but it’s almost as much for our defense to see who can tackle and make plays in space – keep our points on the quarterback when we pass rush. We need to see a much, much more physical football team.”
Possible position switch for Carr
Sophomore defensive tackle Jason Carr returned to practice with a cast on his hand after missing the last few practice sessions. He’ll be cleared to scrimmage on Saturday as a part of a defensive line group looking for more depth and consistency.
But with the offensive line also dangerously thin, Jones indicated that Carr (6-5, 292 pound) could get a look at offensive tackle as well in the near future.
“The clock is ticking for him,” Jones said. “We need him to step up. There’s a possibility we might move him to offense, so the sense of urgency needs to really pick up.
“It’s a combination of [his skills and the lack of O-line depth]. It’s suited to his talents and we’re always going to play with the defensive line first and we’ll see. He still has a few practices before we make that decision, but first of all, it’s where every individual can help you and help the team win. And so we’ll make that assessment.”
.Out: WR Ryan Jenkins, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, TE Brendan Downs, TE A.J. Branisel, S Brian Randolph, WR Drae Bowles
. Limited: CB Justin Coleman, DT Jason Carr
. Running back Marlin Lane missed practice, but Jones said he was taking a test.
. Left tackle Dontavius Blair and defensive linemen Dimarya Mixon were among the players Jones wanted to see in drills early in practice. Jones gave Blair two shots in a pass-blocking drill against defensive end Corey Vereen, with each winning one. Mixon got three cracks at different offensive linemen in one-on-one blocking drills. He stalemated with Ray Raulerson, but was knocked back by Kyler Kerbyson and Marcus Jackson.
. In the same drill that Moseley and North squared off in, Jason Croom easily got past safety LaDarrell McNeil and made a leaping grab in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Cameron Sutton also had good coverage on Josh Malone and forced Riley Ferguson to throw it out of the end zone during another rep in the same drill.
. This weekend is the annual UT Coaches Clinic. Jones said he’s expecting approximately 500 high school coaches in town over the weekend.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga